Posts Tagged Grondwettelijk hof

Unstunned slaughter. Belgian ban goes up to the CJEU for final (?) test on compatibiliy with freedom of religious expression.

Update 29 April 2019 I bumped into the amicus brief of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, in the New Zealand case which raised similar issues, here.

I have of course posted regularly on the issues of unstunned slaughter, freedom of religious expression and animal welfare (search tag ‘shechita’ should pull out the relevant postings). The Belgian Constitutional court, to the expectations I assume of counsel in the case, yesterday referred to the CJEU for preliminary reference (cases 52 and 53/2019).

The subject of the litigation is the Flemish decree banning unstunned slaughter outright (for standing reasons the similar Walloon regime is no longer sub judice). The Belgian court requests the CJEU to clarify its judgment in C-426/16, on which I reported here,

Q1: does Regulation 1099/2009 allow Member States to introduce an outright ban; Q2 in the affirmative, is that compatible with the Charter’s right to religious expression; Q3 in the event of an affirmative answer to Q1: the elephant in the Regulation’s room which I flagged years back: is it not discriminatory to allow Member States to restrict religious slaughter, while simply exempting hunting, fishing and ‘sporting and cultural events’ from the Regulation altogether.

Readers will know my answer to these questions.

Geert.

 

 

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Belgian constitutional court’s ruling on vulture funds fails properly to answer arguments on the basis of EU law.

I have reported earlier on the action of MNL Capital against the 2015 Belgian Vulture Fund Act (my EN translation here), on which I have a paper here. I then reported on a related action (where MNL were joined by Yukos).

At the end of May the Belgian Constitutional Court, ruling 61/2018, rejected an MNL challenge to the Act, which was based inter alia on an alleged infringement of the Brussels I Recast Regulation: at A.23.2: MNL argued that Belgium cannot across the board reject vulture funds activities (I agree) based on an absolute ordre public argument against them: MNL suggested this entails a one-sided reading of ordre public in favour of foreign entities refusing to honour their debt.

Due in large part to the peculiarities of constitutional review in Belgium, the Court at B.15.4 looked at the argument purely from a non-discrimination point of view: creditors who have obtained a foreign judgment against a State are no better or worse off than those having obtained such ruling from a Belgian court.

In essence therefore the arguments on the basis of EU law are left entirely unanswered.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.16, Heading 2.2.16.1.4.

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Vulture funds (and Yukos) fail in Round 1 against Belgian enforcement regime viz sovereign immunity. No reference to Luxemburg on compatibility of Brussels I with international law.

I have reported earlier on the action of MNL Capital against the Belgian Vulture Fund Act of 12 July 2015 (Offical Gazette here, my EN translation here), on which I have a paper here.

Thank you Quentin Declève for alerting me to the Constitutional Court’s judgment on a related action (where MNL were joined by Yukos) namely against the act of 23 August 2015 which introduced Article 1412quinquies in the Belgian Judicial Code. It is noteworthy that the action against the Act of July has not yet been decided by the Court (that case number, for the aficionados, is 6371), at the least I have not been able to locate any judgment).

As Quentin summarises, as a general rule, Article 1412 quinquies of the Belgian Judicial Code provides that assets located in Belgium that belong to a foreign State are immune from execution and cannot be subject to enforcement proceedings by creditors. Exceptions to that rule are possible if very strict conditions are met: a party wishing to seize the assets belonging to a State needs to obtain a prior authorisation from a judge. This judge will only authorise the seizure if (i) the foreign State has “expressively” and “specifically” consented to the seizure of the assets; (ii) the foreign State has specifically allocated those assets to the enforcement of the claim which gives rise to the seizure; and (iii) the assets are located in Belgium and are allocated to an economic or commercial activity.

The Court has now annulled the word ‘specifically’ but has otherwise left the Act intact. Quentin summarises how the Court found that this proviso is not part of international law on State immunity.

Now, picking up where Quentin left: part of applicants’ arguments relate to Brussels I Recast. The argument is made that Belgium with its Act re-introduces exequatur, now that is has been abolished by the Recast. Belgium’s Government seems to argue that the law relating to seizure has public order character and hence is covered by the ordre public exception of the Brussels I Recast Regulation, and that seizure in Belgium which would go against public international customary law on State immunity, along the same lines would be covered by the ordre public exception of the Recast (para A.5.2, p.6).

The Court (at B.29.1 ff, .34 ff) deals with the Brussels I arguments very very succinctly: it refers to Article 41(1) which other than the substantive requirements of title III, makes recognition and enforcement subject to the law of the State of enforcement. The Court also says enforcement is not entirely obstructed: some of the foreign entities’ assets remain subject to seizure; and there are other ways of enforcement other than seizure. Finally the Court suggests that the Brussels I Recast surely must not be applied in a way which would be incompatible with international customary law. By rejecting the suggestion for a prelimary reference to Luxembourg (suggestion made by the Belgian State, unusually), the Court clearly believes that call is not one that has to be made by Luxembourg. Pitty: that would have been an interesting reference.

Again, NML Capital’s action against the Vulture Fund Act is still ongoing, lest I have missed withdrawal. As I noted in my paper, this Act I believe is wanting on various grounds, including some related to the New York Convention and the Brussels I Recast.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.16, Heading 2.2.16.1.4.

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Orgacom v Vlaamse Landmaatschappij: When internal taxes become customs duties.

In Orgacom v Vlaamse Landmaatschappij, Case C-254/13, the ECJ sent out its regular reminder of the core foundation of EU law: namely it being a customs union.

Upon receiving instruction to challenge a national tax, it is useful intuition first of all to assess whether what client is complaining about, is not actually a customs duty (or charge having equivalent effect) per Article 30 TFEU (previously 25 EC), rather than an internal tax. If it is, a win is signed, sealed, delivered. That is because contrary to the possibility for Member States to argue an exception to a trade-restrictive national tax (Article 110 TFEU, previously Article 90 EC), per the ECJ’s case-law (Vinal v Orbat, Case 46/80, was the pivotal kick-off case), there is no room for manoeuvre whatsoever which could ever justify a customs duty.

Qualifying a charge as a customs duty or an equivalent charge, renders this charge contrary to the Treaty by its very nature. Charges which fall under Article 110, on the other hand, are only incompatible with the Treaty where they are discriminatory or protective.

What distinguishes both? Any pecuniary charge, whatever its designation or mode of application, which is imposed unilaterally on goods by reason of the fact that they cross a frontier, and which is not a customs duty in the strict sense, constitutes a charge having an effect equivalent to a customs duty. The only exception is where the charge in question represents payment for a service rendered to the importer, of a sum in proportion to the service, or if it forms part of a general system of internal taxation, applied systematically in accordance with the same criteria to both national products and imported or exported products: such charges on importation fall under Article 110 TFEU where they form part of a general system applicable systematically to categories of products in accordance with objective criteria, irrespective of the origin of the products.

Orgacom is a classic tutorial in the application of Article 30 TFEU. In the case at issue, the levy in question affects the importers of surplus livestock manure on import. The trigger for the levy is simply the amount of importation in the preceding year. That there is a similar levy imposed on fertilisers produced in the Flanders Region, is not sufficient to have it qualify as a tax under Article 110: it is the frontier crossing which is the trigger; the duty is not imposed at the same marketing stage (the disputed levy is imposed on importers; while the same levy in the Flemish Region affects producers); and the two levies are calculated using different methods.

The Court therefore also dismisses first hand the argument that the levy was needed to control the stocks of manure in Flanders and to protect domestic production against external measures that distort competition and impose an additional environmental burden on Flanders: because, as noted, once the measure is qualified as a charge having equivalent effect as a customs duty, wriggle room is out of the question.

(Of note is that the Belgian Constitutional Court had previously held the levy incompatible with Belgium’s internal Economic and Monetary Union).

Never ever underestimate the power of Article 30 TFEU.

Geert.

 

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Know your biomass from your biomass! The ECJ allows less favourable treatment of wood and wood waste in Industrie du bois de Vielsalm

In Industrie du bois de Vielsalm, Case C-195/12, the ECJ yesterday held in favour of the Walloon Region of Belgium, finding that a regional support scheme providing for the grant of ‘green certificates’ to cogeneration plants, which grants a larger number of green certificates to cogeneration plants processing principally forms of biomass other than wood or wood waste, does not infringe the principle of equality and non-discrimination.

The Court found first of all that Directive 2004/8 on the promotion of co-generation does not exhaustively regulate national support schemes for cogeneration and electricity production from renewable energy sources: Member States are given wide discretion.

It then argued that there are sound environmental reasons for discriminating against wood and wood waste in co-generation support schemes:

‘ (…) even at the level of the renewable nature of the resource, and hence from the point of view of its availability, as also from the point of view of sustainable development, prudent and rational utilisation of natural resources, and security of supply, wood, which is a resource whose renewal requires a long period, may be distinguished from agricultural products or household and industrial waste, whose production takes place in a much shorter space of time. (at 74)

‘Furthermore, it is common ground that the overall environmental impact produced by the increased use of biomass for energy production likely to follow from support measures differs according to the particular characteristics of the type of biomass used. As regards the environmental impact that could follow from enhanced support measures for the use of wood and/or wood waste for energy production, it may thus prove necessary to take into account that any excessive or premature deforestation which may be encouraged by such support measures is liable to contribute to an increased presence of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and adverse effects on biodiversity or water quality.

Increased development of agricultural products intended for energy production is liable for its part to increase various forms of pollution specifically linked with agricultural activities, in particular with the use of fertilisers and pesticides, such as adverse effects on the water supply. (at 75 ff)

Finally, factors such as the quantities in which the various renewable energy sources are present in the territory of the Member State concerned, or the level of development that may already have been achieved there as regards recourse to one or other renewable energy source for cogeneration or electricity production, are also capable of influencing the choices to be made with respect to the renewable energy sources to be promoted in that Member State for the purposes of environmental protection and security and diversification of the energy supply. (at 79)

 

It concluded

‘Having regard to all the foregoing, it must be considered that, in the light in particular of the objectives pursued by Directives 2001/77 and 2004/8 and the aims of the European Union in the field of the environment, and of the broad margin of discretion allowed to the Member States by those directives for the adoption and implementation of support schemes intended to promote cogeneration and electricity production from renewable energy sources, and having regard to the individual characteristics of the various categories of biomass capable of use in a cogeneration process, those categories must not be regarded in the context of such support schemes as being in a comparable situation for the purposes of the possible application of the principle of equal treatment, observance of which is ensured by European Union law.

The need to be able to treat those various categories of biomass differently and, in particular, in the light of various environmental considerations, to make choices as to the types of substances to benefit from support and to draw distinctions as regards the specific details of that support, including the amount of the support, must on the contrary be regarded as inherent in that context, without it being possible to consider, in the present state of European Union law, that by taking the view that those various categories of biomass are not in the same situation the Member States manifestly exceeded the limits of their broad discretion in the matter (see, by analogy, Luxembourg v Parliament and Council, paragraphs 50 and 51). ‘(at 80-81)

 

This last para is a textbook application of the principle of non-discrimination: treating different situations like, may also constitute a violation of the principle of equal treatment. Here, the difference in circumstance is entirely explained by the ECJ by recourse to the environmental qualities of different types of fuel.

Geert.

 

 

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